Counfounded Couture! Just as I was ready to go Unabomber and write a lengthy manifesto about how you holding out on the UFC was killing your career, you go and ink a new deal and bring all those haters back into the fold who were poised to write you off. Your rekindled relationship with the UFC conjures up a few questions –Does this reconciliation indicate a shift in power from the promoters to the fighters? Will your successful PR campaign become the “Captain America precedent” that motivates other fighters to hold out for more money? And will your fans be as forgiving as Dana White and watch your next fight?
Let’s be clear about one thing-this is about money. Couture has maintained for a long time that he left the UFC because he felt disrespected when Dana White offered Fedor Emelianenko more money than himself to join the organization. In his mind money equals respect. Nothing wrong with that, but he went a step further and professed that because of the promotion’s “disrespect” he would never fight there again and that he would hold out forever to fight Fedor.
But then Fedor signed a long-term deal with Affliction, making the Couture-Fedor superfight a pipe dream because the UFC will NEVER allow a co-promotional fight between the two organizations. And why should they? All it will do is prop up the UFC’s competition that’s struggling to survive. Fedor’s signing was an opportunity to get Randy back in the octagon so Dana White pounced on it and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. For all the “I’m going to fight Fedor one way or another,” and “I’ll never fight in the UFC” rhetoric, he sure did run back there awfully fast when the money bell rang. But at what cost? Couture and Dana White might have forgiven each other, but have the fans forgiven them?
Piss off the fans and don’t be surprised when they turn on you, especially in a combat sport where passivity is weakness. In MMA a fighter’s action or lack of it will invite criticism that will haunt them and eventually affect their bottom line. Any athlete, regardless of stature or sport, who refuses to play because they want more money only sinks lower into the depths of fan contempt. Emmit Smith didn’t show up for training camp? “Forget him!” the fans cry. Baseball players are on strike? “We’ll watch hockey then! And good luck getting us back into the seats when you do decide to play again, pussies!” Couture was on his way there and knew it.
Anyone would give their left kidney to make a comfortable living playing a game. So when athletes refuse to play because they want six million dollars a year instead of five million, the average fan has a hard time understanding that, especially when they’re sitting in traffic during a thirty minute commute as their nest egg slowly dissipates with the gas gauge. It simply doesn’t make sense to us.
Granted MMA is a little different. It’s rough. Fighters have extremely demanding training regimens and get the snot beaten out of them on a regular basis. But at times they’re the ones doing the snot beating, so they get to experience something most of us never do-the primal feeling of conquest and extreme individual achievement.
Am I suggesting fighters sit back and take whatever their magnanimous promoters give them and keep their mouths shut? No, and I even wrote a piece on the pros and cons of unionizing two years ago. This is a free market economy and they can negotiate all the want, but let’s put things into perspective here. Their complaints don’t make sense to those of us who want to see them fight. It seems arrogant and petty, so maybe there’s a different prize at stake here. Maybe it’s all about control, which Randy Couture has managed to wrestle some away from the UFC, a feat no one else will be able to accomplish because of his immense drawing power.
Will Couture’s holdout make an example for other fighters to follow? Nope. There’s only one Couture and this is likely the only time Dana White will stray from his hard line stance of “my way or the highway.” I just can’t see guys like Tito Ortiz or Tim Sylvia getting the same treatment, and if Roger Huerta isn’t careful, he’ll be fighting in the Extreme Sandlot League soon.
Like Couture, Huerta claimed he wasn’t being paid enough, a sentiment whose credibility is crumbling like the Parthenon. Simple numbers obtainable through the state athletic commissions prove the UFC’s pay scale has increased dramatically over the last few years. (Quick statistical departure-in 2005 the standard contract for a first time UFC fighter was $3000 to show up and $3000 to win. Fight of the night, submission of the night, and KO of the night bonuses were $10,000. At UFC 86 the UFC paid newcomer Corey Hill $8000 to show up and fight bonuses were $60,000.)
The pay surely isn’t enough to live on, but would you really expect anything different from a man who grew up poor in South Boston to a single mother? You have to consider who we’re talking about here. Like most of America Dana White believes in paying your dues, so whining about money will get you nowhere with him. And since the UFC is a privately owned company and MMA has no collective bargaining group (i.e. Union) to further fighter’s interests, don’t expect it to change.
Overall I say good for Randy. Although a terrible matchup from a pure fighting perspective and one that I’ll no doubt talk crap about (the only title shot Lesnar deserves is a copy of my book), Couture –Lesnar is a massive event that fans will line up to see, even if they’re sore over how long it took Couture to get back in the cage. When it’s over, only one person will be crying in their beer.
Not Couture -he’ll be seen as the champion of the little guy who fought for what he deserved. Not the UFC-they’ll get an incredibly profitable fight in November. Not Fedor-he gets a big paycheck for fighting guys he’ll steamroll over (Arlovski and Barnett) even if that talent pool may run dry before Christmas. The only one who loses is Affliction. They’ve just seen the big payday that could have saved their fledgling promotion go up in t-shirt smoke, leaving the UFC licking its chops at the prospect of eating another promotion who thought they could challenge them.
I’m just sayin’
Kelly Crigger is a freelance MMA writer and author of the book “Title Shot: Into the Shark Tank of Mixed Martial Arts” which you can purchase by clicking here. Contact him through his website at IntoTheSharkTank.com